|Why do you describe your music as "Theatrical Folk-Rock"?
I have three main musical influences. The first and most obvious is the folk of the '60s and '70s, most especially Joni Mitchell's music. I've also been influenced by newer folk-based artists and singer/songwriters such as the Indigo Girls and Sarah McLachlan. I've also listened to rock all my life, starting with the Beatles and continuing on to groups like Green Day.
In additon, many people tell me, "Your songs sound like they should be in a show." I use the term "theatrical" rather than "Broadway" or "cabaret" because I sound nothing like Liza Minelli. I don't try to sound theatrical, but I listened to many musicals growing up, and it comes out in my music in subtle ways. It's evident in my tendency to set scenes and tell stories, in my unusually frequent use of exact rhymes, in my use of a wide variety of musical styles, and in my clear enunciation (why write lyrics only to mumble them?). When some people hear the word "theatrical" applied to popular music, they think of a flamboyant performer such as David Bowie. I'm not especially flamboyant. What my songs allude to is that moment in every great musical when a single actor is on stage, singing about a moment of realization, an important decision, a challenge they face, something they want to say to another character but can't, or a secret they reveal only to the audience.
Who did your CD cover art?
My husband, Gary Lee Parks. He can do any kind of illustration, from murals to cartoons. He has designed stained glass and etched glass windows for over 25 years. He is also a voice actor, an operatically trained singer, a member of the American Research Center in Egypt, and a former board member of the Theatre Historical Society of America. His website is garyparksart.com.
You used to mostly play piano, but now you mostly play guitar. Why the change?
It began when I injured my lower back in 2007 and didn't want to haul my 60-pound keyboard to shows. Soon after that, I took my smaller, 22-pound keyboard, plus the amp and stand, on a round-trip flight, and discovered why sensible people don't do such things. I decided to try learning fingerstyle guitar. Fortunately I picked it up quickly. Now when people ask, I tell them that a guitar is an accessory, but a keyboard is furniture.
Why do you say you're "acoustic" but use a keyboard at some shows?
Because an acoustic piano is really heavy. When a venue has a real piano that's in good condition, I use it. When they don't, I have to make do with an electronic approximation, because transporting the piano in my living room to every gig is just not practical. All the venues I've talked to accept this. When a venue wants acoustic music, typically it's because they have one of the following concerns:
- Tone - My big keyboard has excellent piano sounds with each note individually sampled from a real piano. If you close your eyes, you would swear it was the real thing. My little keyboard doesn't quite sound real, but it's not cheesy either.
- Power - My little keyboard has built-in speakers and runs on batteries, so if there's nowhere to plug in, I do fine.
- Volume - Even at full volume, my little keyboard is not as loud as my unamplified voice. My big keyboard is only as loud as I turn the dial on my amp, and I tend to keep it low.
Some of your songs criticize offshoring and downsizing. Are you a socialist?
I am a capitalist. Please buy my CD! Seriously, as an independent singer/songwriter, I am a small business owner, an entrepreneur. For more than 20 years my day jobs have been at Silicon Valley high-tech companies. So I support and am supported by capitalism. I think that capitalism as an economic system is robust enough to take constructive criticism. Besides, treating workers well helps them to be better consumers, and it's consumer spending that drives the economy. By the way, one way to be a consumer and support the local economy is to buy my CD.
Do you ever play other people's songs?
My own songs keep me quite busy. I also frequently perform at venues that don't have ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC licenses. These venues accordingly restrict their performers to self-written or public domain material. Lately, however, my husband Gary and I have been doing duet versions of Sting's Fields of Gold, Toad's Walk on the Ocean, the Doors' The Crystal Ship, and a few others where permissible. We'll learn a song if requested, but mainly we play what we like.
Do you ever play at weddings or other private parties?
I've played Night Ship and I Can Talk to You at weddings and I've played You Will Find Me at funerals. I've also played at house concerts hosted by other people. I'm always open to new possibilities. I don't seek out work for hire much because it tends to detract from writing and performing my own songs.
Do you adjust your material to your audience?
Well, I try. I avoid playing songs like World in His Pocket if I know an audience is conservative, and I avoid playing songs like Kill His Memory if children are present. I try not to preach too much, and I try to keep my songs PG-13 or cleaner. If a venue requests that I not play a particular song, I don't. But this rarely happens.
I have learned the hard way that my tendency to critique religion is sometimes a problem, so in some venues I don't play songs such as Messiah Refugee. I got banned from a Bay Area farmers' market for playing (Jesus Has Cancelled) My Cable TV, much to the amusement of my fellow songwriters. Was it a conservative Christian who was listening carefully or an atheist who wasn't who complained? I don't know, but it definitely was someone without a sense of humor. I will say this: being banned gives you street cred.
Why is your business called "Messiah Refugees Music"?
This is a tongue-in-cheek reference to my New Age upbringing. Along the way, I met a number of self-proclaimed messiah types, from which I consider myself a refugee of sorts. I'm also sometimes asked if I'm a Christian or an atheist, and I'm neither. I'm sort of an equal opportunity heretic. I've written a song called Messiah Refugee to fully explain myself; see the Music page.
Do you hope to give up your day job?
Very few musicians make a middle-class living, and those that do are usually self-employed studio wizards or music teachers. In other words, they have day jobs. They don't pay their bills with money made from recording CDs and playing live. I would rather be a technical writer than a studio wizard or a music teacher. I enjoy writing and explaining things, and I'm part geek.